The Swedish company Atlas Copco supplies important machinery for the Moroccan phosphate industry in occupied Western Sahara. The machinery are used to make drilling holes for blasting of phosphate mine.
Atlas Copco is contributing to the theft of phosphate
By Arto Valtonen Västsahara 2/2013
In 2008 Atlas Copco delivered two 84 ton Pit Viper PV275 to the Bou Craa phosphate mine in occupied Western Sahara. The mobile drilling machines are used for drilling holes that allow for the blasting of phosphates. The Ethical Council of the Swedish public pension fund AP-Fonderna is campaigning vigorously to stop the Australian company Incitic Pivot from buying phosphates from Western Sahara, the very same phosphates that are being exploited with the help of the drilling equipment supplied by Atlas Copco.
One has to say, however, that Atlas Copco’s stance on business ethics is probably unique in Swedish trade and industry. You just have to take a quick look at their website to realise this. But here is the reality: In the pictures I see in front of me there is a yellow machine bearing the name Pit Viper PV275 Atlas Copco. The photos have been shot at the Bou Craa phosphate mine. How does that fit with the conscientious attitude on ethics as described on their website?
The history of the company is revealed on the website. We are told that Atlas Copco has had a long history in Morocco, dating back to 1948. A short text informs us that the company delivered two Pit Viper PV275 to Bou Craa in 2008. In total four machines have been delivered to the Moroccan Mining Company OCP (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) exploiting in the Bou Craa mine. In a promotional film clip on YouTube, a dark voice tells us about the efficiency of the PV275. You then see the holes – which have been drilled by the PV275 - being filled with explosives. Finally the explosion: Several tons of earth and rock are blasted into the air.
“Atlas Copco has sold equipment to a customer working in Morocco and Western Sahara. It is about drilling equipment”, answers Karin Holmquist, who is responsible for ethics at Atlas Copco.
She does not want to give any figures concerning sales to occupied Western Sahara. Instead I get this response:
“Today there are no restrictions in trade with Western Sahara. The Atlas Copco Business Code of Principle is based on international ethical guidelines such as UN Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for multinational companies and UN Declaration of Human Rights.”
I am told that Atlas Copco is looking for help from others in its ethical work:
“We are in contact with experts who formerly worked in Amnesty Business Group, Unicef, Rädda Barnen. We are active participants in the Nordic Network of UN Global Compact. I invite Amnesty International every year to a formal dialogue with the biggest owners of Atlas Copco. I regularly talk to CSR experts within mining industry of some customers”, says Karin Holmquist.
I look at the picture again. A yellow drilling equipment which looks like a launching pad on caterpillar tracks. It is located in Bou Craa. Occupied since 1975. According to Freedom House, this is the least free country in the world.
Atlas Copco is owned by Investor, which is controlled by Wallenberg. Jacob Wallenberg was the deputy chairman of Atlas Copco when the PV275 were delivered to Bou Craa. He does not want to be interviewed. Nobody at Investor wants to say anything about their responsibility as owners. Instead, the person responsible for ethics at Atlas Copco is left to answer the questions.
I receive a reply from Amnesty. They have not participated in meetings with Atlas Copco since 2008, although they do get invitations. They do not know anything about the “experts”, from the now defunct Amnesty Business Group, who are said to be helping Atlas Copco.
“It is a problem if Atlas Copco is selling equipment being used in the occupied territories. We know about the oppression the Saharawis are living under and how their natural resources are being exploited by Morocco without the benefit of the Saharawis. Atlas Copco has to account for how they can guarantee that their selling does not contribute to the conflict, strengthens the occupying force and contributes to violations of human rights”, says Anna Gustafsson at Amnesty.
The Ethical Council of the Swedish public pension fund AP-Fonderna states in their annual reports dating 2010 and 2011 that they are trying to stop Australian based Incetic Pivot from buying phosphate from Western Sahara:
“Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975 and is on the UN list of non self governing territories to be decolonised. The UN Legal Advisor (Hans Corell) made clear in January 2002 that no exploitation of natural resources can take place against the will of the Saharawi population. This would be in violation of the UN Convention of civil and political rights and the UN Convention of economical, social and cultural rights.”
I ask the Karin Holmquist, Atlas Copco, about the statement from the UN Legal Advisor, mentioned in their annual report. She answers:
“The situation in Western Sahara is complicated and among companies which have been and are now operating there, different decisions have been made. Norwegian shipping companies have chosen not to do business in Western Sahara.” “Atlas Copco has a long presence in Morocco and has customers in several business sectors, for example mining. One of Atlas Copco´s mining customers is also one of the biggest companies in Morocco and is majority-owned by the Moroccan state (65%). The customer has several mines, one of which is located in the southeast region of Western Sahara. Atlas Copco sells mining equipment and provides service of equipment to this customer. Atlas Copco has reviewed this customer and it is a pilot company for implementing the guiding international standard on Social Responsibility ISO 26000. Atlas Copco Morocco is also a pilot company from implementing this standard.”
Erik Hagen is the chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW). He has, for many years, discussed and argued with companies about issues concerning Western Sahara. This is his comment on the statements given by Atlas Copco:
"It is not logical that a company, with such comprehensive routines for social responsibility, decides to operate in the occupied Western Sahara. The company admits that they know the principle that the Saharawis themselves should administer the natural resources there – not Morocco. Therefore it is strange that they choose to operate in Western Sahara and at the same time assert that they are acting with social responsibility. I do not understand their reasoning. It is illogical", says Erik Hagen.
His opinion is that companies have a great responsibility for public international law. "States can violate international law. Companies can contribute to the fact that states violate international law. These are two sides of the same coin", he says. "We take for granted that Atlas Copco immediately stops its participation in this unethical activity", says Erik Hagen.
Christina Kusoffsky Hillesöy is the president of The Ethical Council of AP-Fonderna and general manager of AP3, one of its funds.
“The cooperation of the mutual Ethical Council of the AP-Fonderna includes dialogues with foreign companies which means that the buffer funds do not cooperate concerning Swedish companies. The information about Atlas Copco is new information for us at AP3 and we will contact the company”, says Christina Kusoffsky Hillesöy.
Two Pit Viper PV275 have been drilling in Bou Craa since 2008. Morocco is earning huge sums of money from the Saharawi phosphate. For Atlas Copco their drilling machines are producing for them only bad publicity. In the picture, the sun reflects the whitish phosphate sand on to the yellow metal.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.